In 1875 London, widower Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) is experimenting with photographic techniques and, through the deaths of his young fiancee and his son and a series of contrivances and hokey deduction that require you to just roll with it, concludes that smudges found on photographs of people near the moment of death is a manifestation of the Asphyx, the ancient Greek "spirit of death" coming to claim a soul as it departs the body. Working with his adopted son Giles (Powell), Sir Hugo develops a technique of capturing a person's Asphyx using light projection and crystals (just roll with it), thereby enabling a person to achieve immortality. Of course, various tragedies befall Sir Hugo, as they would to anyone exhibiting the hubris to try to play God.
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Based on a novel by James Herbert and scripted by David Ambrose (one of the writers of 1980's THE FINAL COUNTDOWN), THE SURVIVOR is a rather low-key, slowly-paced thriller, ambitious but rarely exciting, with more ideas than it knows how to handle, and it feels very much like an extended episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE that could've probably used one more polish. In the first 45 or so minutes, Hemmings spends too much time with minor supporting characters and keeps Powell offscreen for far too long, but he does an impressive job with the terrifying plane crash, there's a couple of nicely creepy sequences and the scenes with Powell and Agutter haunted by the wailing cries of the spirits of the dead are quite unnerving. There's one or two moderately gory deaths and some typically dangerous Ozsploitation stuntwork early on, but I can see why no US distributors showed much interest in it, especially in the slasher-crazy days of 1981. Powell and Agutter are fine and there's some nice cinematography by John Seale, who would soon go to Hollywood and earn several Oscar nominations and winning one for his work photographing THE ENGLISH PATIENT. THE SURVIVOR is a decent, restrained little horror film, but largely an insignificant one except for it being the final screen appearance of Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten, seen here in a small role as a priest. Cotten, then 76 and looking frail, suffered a debilitating stroke shortly after finishing his work on THE SURVIVOR, prompting his retirement from acting. He died in 1994 at the age of 88.
Scorpion's remastered, 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer looks fantastic. Extras include a commentary with Ginnane and Scorpion horror hostess Katarina, plus a trailer. (Unrated, 98 mins)